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07/09/2019

Ordinance set for Aug. 12 public hearing would bar dogs from town athletic fields

The Town Council will hold a public hearing Aug. 12, 2019 on draft updates to the dog ordinance, and would like specific feedback on a proposal to prohibit dogs – leashed or unleashed, at any time of the year – from town or school athletic fields.

The restriction was not part of the draft presented to the council by their ordinance subcommittee on July 8, but councilors voted to add it, hoping to start a conversation that many said needs to happen.

Both the Ordinance Committee and the Conservation Committee have been working to modernize the town dog ordinance since early 2018, in conjunction with revisions to the unleased-dog area at Fort Williams Park. [news article]

A major component of the update is a proposed category system of managing dogs on municipal properties: Category 3 - Dogs on-leash or under voice control; Category 2 - Dogs on-leash only; and Category 1 - No dogs allowed.

The draft submitted to the council for public hearing allows dogs on athletic fields, at times with leash restrictions, but on July 8 the council, for the purpose of discussion, opted to change them all to "No Dogs Allowed."

"I think it would be a stronger public hearing if we are of the position that dogs are going to be banned from athletic fields," said Councilor Caitlin Jordan, who moved to include the prohibition in the draft for the hearing. She added that that was her personal position, but if people testify otherwise at the hearing, the draft can go back to where it was.

The vote to set the hearing with the restriction was unanimous. "I just want to be clear that this is just to increase interest, it does not mean we are necessarily voting 'Yes' at the end of the day on this," said Councilor Chris Straw. "For the purposes of putting it to public hearing, I'm voting 'Yes'," he said.

Council Chair Jamie Garvin agreed that most parts of the ordinance update seem acceptable to citizens, including the concept of different property managers, such as the Conservation Committee or School Board, having authority to change category designations on some properties. But sensitivity around dogs on athletic fields remains, Garvin said. "So if you are either planning to participate in that public hearing or going to communicate with us before hand we'd love to hear from you about that," he said.

Some councilors said they believed the proposed management system itself would provide the tools to address concerns about dogs on athletic fields, but others believed the time to address those concerns was now. "If we don't agree with what we've put in there, this is the time to change it," said Councilor Valerie Randall. "I think to start out on the right foot it does make sense, as a full council, to discuss the athletic field issue."

Councilors also agreed to delay their vote on the ordinance until September, allowing full consideration of public comment at the August hearing.